The Key to Becoming Irreplaceable

Becoming replaceable isn’t far away. 30% of current jobs will be taken by machines within the next 10 years [1]. Humanity seems to be in quite a conundrum here. We want speed, efficiency and convenience but have we thought of the consequences of there being few professions other than the ones contributing to this advancement?

Remember when you had to buy a soda from an actual person? Or when there was no such thing as a self-checkout machine and you had to interact with a human being at Walgreens, CVS and Walmart to buy something? Or when the idea of not needing a driver or pilot was unthinkable?

These examples beg the question, when will machines catch up with your profession and will you be prepared for when this happens?

Are the generally ‘highly educated’ safe career routes, really safe anymore?

Researchers have anticipated that by 2029, robots will have reached human levels of intelligence [2].  When a machine can think faster, be more precise, never complain, and work for 365 days straight, what would be the point of a human worker in certain jobs? Now that is scary.

If someone were to ask you, can many doctors, attorneys, anesthesiologists, financial analysts or dental lab technicians lose their jobs within the next 30 years? Unfortunately, I think some will. I’m not trying to undervalue any of these careers, I respect them because they require a lot of effort. My intention is to shed light on technologies which might take some people by surprise. Take IBM’s Supercomputer Watson as an example, it combines both artificial intelligence (AI) and sophisticated analytical software to solve problems. Its capabilities have increased to the extent of being considered to be “better at diagnosing cancer than human doctors” and that is just one of its many skills [3]. Watson’s capability of ingesting 600,000 pieces of medical evidence, over 2 million pages of medical journals and 1.5 million patient records for further information gives it a range of knowledge no human can match [4].

Let’s look at attorneys. Attorneys on average spend a grand portion of their time researching, analyzing and synthesizing the hundreds if not thousands of articles they have to read. This takes a lot of time and energy. With AI, this will be able to be done within a matter of minutes if not seconds. The benefit of having this technology available is that they will be able to have access to better research and in turn form stronger cases.

It’s worth mentioning that there are many parts of the jobs I have listed above that can’t be replaced for a long while. A feasible nearby future is one in which AI and humans work closely together to eradicate heavy data driven tasks. The good news is that the careers mentioned above will be able to use AI and in turn potentially produce even better quality work.

Will we truly benefit from the necessary evil of artificial intelligence?

I think we will if we can control it, but can we control it? Highly renowned physicist Stephen Hawking thinks we cannot, he said “The development of artificial intelligence could spell the end of human race” [5]. Other extremely smart individuals such as Bill Gates and Elon Musk who are at the very forefront of innovative technologies have the same stance as Hawking. I agree with them, not that it really matters, I’m just a college student. But I agree with them because humans in nature are very curious. We don’t know when to stop developing something even if it could spell the end of us. Look at the atomic bomb. An atomic bomb has the ability to destroy an entire nation. That wasn’t enough for us though, we went on to create the Hydrogen Bomb. Right now the U.S and Russia alone have enough nuclear weapons to wipe out over 90% of the world’s population.

Moving on…   

Let’s try to look at artificial intelligence objectively. We would have more efficiency, precision, production and the costs would be significantly reduced. We could also have more time to spend with our family, friends and doing things we love. But not everyone will be able to enjoy these benefits, many will struggle.

Those who will struggle are those who forgot or never learned how to learn.

As an Electrical Engineering (EE) student, the chances I’ll ever apply what I’ve learned about bipolar junction transistors or microprocessor architecture are slim to none. EE is quite interesting, which makes it slightly easier to study. What I personally value is the confidence I have that I can learn almost anything after going through EE.

The goal of a great education is not only to emphasize how to learn but provide you with the tools to apply what you have learned. You can give a man a fish and feed him for a day, but you can also teach a man how to fish and feed him for a lifetime. Your ability to learn fast and apply what you know will be what feeds you and your loved ones for a lifetime. If one runs away from this quest for knowledge, one’s future will be further unclear.

Over the next two decades, about 45% of jobs are vulnerable, which equates to about 55 million jobs.

Is a tragedy only a tragedy if it hits close to us? Perhaps unemployment and being disenfranchised by technology is only scary since we are now within the scope of this silent assassin. We only truly care about unemployment if it has potential to affect us personally, or else the U.S. wouldn’t have 8.2 million people unemployed today.

 Occupations might not exactly be lost, people will hopefully adapt and create new industries as they have done before. However, the difference between the upcoming third industrial revolution and the previous revolutions is that this one will probably be by far the hardest to cope with. For all of us.

It boils down to harnessing our ingenuity, imagination and hard work ethic like never before.

I believe yesterday was the time millennials should have proactively done something about becoming irreplaceable.  Our children will hopefully adapt and learn the market that they will be faced with. Millennials on the other hand might be the ones facing the harsh reality of living in a period of massive technological transition.

Many of us will not have the time and expertise to learn the new technology and go along with these evolutions, and who knows what will happen when this occurs.

There is no point in worrying. What you can do is harness and develop your ability to learn, because once you have done that, not only will you cease to be replaceable, you will become unstoppable. If there is one thing you should take from this article, let it be this:

Change is inevitable. Embrace change, be fast to adapt and apply what you know.

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